Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Test Rides - Electra Amsterdam & Pashley Poppy

I'm looking for a city bike. I do like my MTB (nothing fancy, a Trek 4100) but would like something more specifically for urban riding. I could equip the Trek to suit my needs, but then it wouldn't be as practical for the trails (and, frankly, I'd be too lazy to keep switching it up). What I'm looking for is something that I can ride to the grocery store but also explore the city - and eventually start commuting to work. I need to be able to wear "normal" clothes while riding, so things like fenders and chainguards are a must. It needs to be comfortable - not an overly-aggressive riding position. Speed isn't a priority but it does have to be maneuverable enough to tackle Calgary's streets and hills. And it needs to be attractive! I'm drawn to the style of European city bikes. But the main objective is comfort and practicality.

I started my search rather blindly, leaving it up to the bike shops to give me suggestions based on the above.  Bow Cycle has a good selection of Electras, and they pointed me in the direction of the Amsterdam. I test-rode the Alexander Girard 3i in "Madonna":

Forgive me for the picture quality. I took all this blog post's pics rather hastily, before I decided I would actually start blogging about the bike search.

I actually think this bike looks kinda cool but the novelty would definitely wear off quickly. I can appreciate the work of Girard but a little piece of me would die inside with every year over the age of 30 that I ride this bike. Plus, how to match your wardrobe?? If I were to get this bike, it would just be in a classic black.

In terms of the ride, it was decent - an enjoyable experience. The sales guy said that anyone who ever test rides an Electra returns with a smile on their face.... I did have fun riding this one. The upright position was certainly comfortable. The ride was smooth but not "zippy"; definitely for more casual riding.... which isn't a bad thing. It's nice to just relax and take in your surroundings! However, I found the bike quite "rattly". With every bump, there was a lot of noise. Didn't quite feel like it was falling apart, but it was a little bothersome. I don't know if it was just a matter of having to tighten things, but I'm looking for something sturdy enough that I wouldn't have to worry about that too much. I really liked that it has a rear rack, full chainguard, and skirtguard. Didn't care for the coaster brake - I like to be able to fiddle with pedal positions in order to get going again once I'm stopped. Gearing was smooth enough, but 3 speeds isn't enough for me.

This was basically the dealbreaker with the Electras. 3 speeds was not enough; the next model up is the 8i with (obviously) 8 speeds - which is great, but the price was not justifiable for me (can't remember exactly, but it was over $1200 I think). For a comparable price, I could get a Pashley, with (in my opinion) higher quality components and construction all around.

Thus took my search to BikeBike. Originally I wanted to try out a Batavus, but there was nothing that would suitably fit me (I'm 4'11")... so I tried out the Pashley Poppy instead. And I loved it. Well, mostly...

Beautifully crafted, great components, a wonderful bike. Riding it, I didn't notice its weight until I had to climb a hill. I did have to work harder to crest that hill than I normally would, but it was doable. Plus, as Sean (store owner) explained, the weight of the bike translates to forward momentum. I had no problem accelerating on this bike, and it was actually rather responsive. I had no problem lugging it up the few stairs back up to the bike shop. It had the upright seating position that I really like. And beautiful parts - Brooks saddle, chainguard, etc. However, I would have preferred the following:

  • Swept back handlebars vs. this bike's straighter handlebars
  • Full chaincase
  • Rear rack
  • More gearing options (Poppy only has 3 speeds)
And of lesser priority:
  • Skirt guard
  • Lights

Which led me to the Princess Sovereign. There were none in stock for me to try out, but apparently the ride would be very similar but with all of the above preferences (including a 5 speed hub). I love the Princess Sovereign's full chaincase, dynamo headlight, frame lock, etc. Not that those things are absolutely necessary, but how nice!!! She's an absolutely gorgeous bike. Lovely Bicycle and Girls and Bicycles both had excellent information for me to take into consideration.

Basically I'm in love with the PS. I'd be ready to throw down for her right now, but Sean is waiting for a shipment of Linus Bikes, which include Dutch and Mixte styles that have 8 speeds (new for this year). I love the romantic beauty of Pashleys, but I'm also drawn to the stylish simplicity of Linus. I'm interested to see how they ride, especially as they are lighter and have more gearing options. They apparently will also be less expensive, but this might not be significant once I add the accessories I want (e.g. Brooks saddle, basket, lights, maybe swap out the tires).

So I'm eagerly waiting to test ride the Linuses, then I'll decide. Now that I've committed to this blog, I'll take better (well, maybe not better but at least more) photos once they arrive. In the meantime, I've been drooling over the pictures in BikePortand.org's flickr photostream.

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